endothermic or exothermic?
August 4, 2008 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Apartment filter: I need my apartment to be cool inside! We moved into a very nice 3rd (top) floor, west facing apartment... in March... came home in June and no exaggeration, it was 94 degrees in my living room. The AC has a 20 degree difference and runs nonstop from 4pm to 11pm and its 84 degrees in the bed room till 11pm.

We’ve had the maintenance people out three times. There’s a 20 degree difference between intake and output. The filters are new. Everything on the roof looks fine. But more than 2 feet from the vent and you can’t feel it anymore.

All the ceiling fans are going 24/7. The floor fan is on whenever we're home and not asleep. The sliding glass door is covered by UV/light blocking tinting designed for RVs, venetian blinds, and a blanket. The office window has venetian blinds and a blanket. The bedroom window has venetian blinds and very thick light blocking curtains. The AC is always set on 78. We cannot make any modifications that are visible from the outside.

Do you think it’s worth another $100 to tint the other two windows? The heat has to be coming through the walls, right?

I live in the Phoenix area, opening the windows after dark will not help. Moving is not an option till March and we still like everything else about the apartment.

What else can we do?! I’m not looking for stop-gap solutions like a bucket of ice water in front of a fan. I want my apartment enjoyable. There is no reason I should have a $230 electric bill for a 980 sq ft apartment when my parents have a $380 bill for a 5 bedroom house! Our electric bill in April was $76!

Help us mefi, you're our only hope!
posted by phritosan to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Find drafty doors and windows where the heat exchange is taking place, and take steps to seal them. (a rug or weather stripping under the doors, seal the windows with stripping or the plastic saran-wrap-like stuff)

Choose the rooms you'll be in, and adjust the vents accordingly. If you won't be in the bedroom all day, close the vents in there, and shunt the AC to the office. Do the opposite at night.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:34 PM on August 4, 2008

Best answer: I forget the name of it but there is a film you can buy that you put on the inside of your windows that will work very well. It's similar to the film for window-tinting in cars. My wife and I had the exact same problem in our first apartment. 4 floors up, west facing and hot. It helped that we we newlyweds and didn't mind walking around in nothing or next to nothing during the summer anyway, but I digress....

Really, the film worked wonders. It brought the temp down right away. If you hit the hardware store, they'll be able to sell it to you. Ours came in a roll about 4 feet wide and we cut the sheets to fit. It took us a whole morning to do it because our apartment was about 100 years old and all the window pans were 5x6 or something odd like that, but the effort was worth it.
posted by damiano99 at 2:37 PM on August 4, 2008

You've got no insulation in your roof I bet. I had this once in an apartment. Hot sunny days were killer; the sun beat down on that black roof mere inches above my ceiling. At least I wasn't in Phoenix where all the days were hot and sunny. Is your ceiling unduly warm? You might have them check the insulation, if there is any. If you absolutely must have this apartment and they won't help you then I guess you could insulate yourself on the inside, with some nonflammable foam, but it would be hard to make it look nice. They should fix this though. It would appear to be a habitability issue.
posted by caddis at 2:38 PM on August 4, 2008

78 is pretty high for the a/c setting. Most people would set it much lower. If you set it lower it will cool the room more.

Sorry about the cost, but the Phoenix desert is not really a natural environment for human beings.

New or not, make sure the filters are clean.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:41 PM on August 4, 2008

Probably a good idea to talk to your landlord. We had the same problem in Texas for a bit. A recharge of coolant / cleaning all the filters / cleaning out the vents and hosing off and shading the exterior unit helped a lot.
posted by LucretiusJones at 2:43 PM on August 4, 2008

The heat has to be coming through the walls, right?

Pretty much, yeah. You could block out the other two windows, which would probably help a little, and possibly even offset the electric bill enough to pay for the tinting, but you'll still have a west-facing apartment in Phoenix on the third floor. So, you're getting a massive amount of heat gain through your walls (and windows, obviously), as well as through your roof, as well as whatever is passing up through your floor from the apartments below you (for comparison, I lived in a west-facing third floor dorm room in the middle of Virginia, and we had our window open until December, when it started snowing).

If I remember correctly from school, some types of AC units have temperature points where they become significantly less efficient -- especially heat pumps, which is quite likely what you have if you've got central air in an apartment building. It's not able to get rid of the heat effectively enough to be able to provide refrigeration. Technology may have advanced a bit since then, but it might just be too hot for your unit to really do anything about it.

You could try some sort of swamp cooler, but I don't have any other kind of recommendation for you.

78 is pretty high for the a/c setting. Most people would set it much lower. If you set it lower it will cool the room more.

I could be wrong, but I don't think AC units really work like that--they kick out coolness until they get to the set temperature and then stop. They don't increase or decrease their output depending on where the thermostat is set.
posted by LionIndex at 2:45 PM on August 4, 2008

If you like the fans on when you're home to create some breeze, fine. But otherwise, when you're gone, turn them off. They're doing nothing to cool the place; in fact in a small way they're adding heat given off by the motors.

Definitely film any window that catches sun and back that up with blinds and blankets, the more layers the better. Or get sheets of that rigid, foil-faced insulating foam and cut pieces tightly to fit the window openings.

Make sure the film is the reflective kind that looks like a mirror from outside, not just a glass-darkening type like you'd put in a car.

But beyond that, the heat is coming through the walls and ceiling. Your second floor neighbors probably don't have much of a problem. You might lobby the landlord to do some roof insulation.
posted by beagle at 2:47 PM on August 4, 2008

If being set to 78 results in the room never getting to 78, and the AC is constantly running, changing to 70 will accomplish nothing.

There's something wrong with either the AC unit (a 20 degree delta sounds alright and would eventually get the job done, but perhaps the volume of air coming in/out is insufficient), or the unit (drafty windows, etc).

Certainly try insulating the windows, as that was a major issue in my home up here in Las Vegas.

posted by Rendus at 2:49 PM on August 4, 2008

Best answer: I forget the name of it but there is a film you can buy....

Are you referring to Gila film? Read more here. We put it on the west-facing windows of our home and it made a difference. Got it at Lowe's, FWIW, and they come in severals widths and lengths.
posted by fijiwriter at 2:55 PM on August 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I may be misunderstanding, but it sounds like you don't turn it on until 4pm, and it doesn't manage to cool the house down to a reasonable degree by the time you go to sleep.

Assuming this is the case, and that by 4pm (when you turn on the AC) it's substantially warmer than you'd like in the apartment already, advise you turn on the AC and set it to 78 and leave it on all the time.

It will end up costing more, but it won't actually kick on until the house hits 78, and it's easier for the unit to keep a house at 78 than it is to bring it down from 98 to 78.

If I misunderstood how you're using the AC, ignore me.
posted by davejay at 2:56 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: to JimN2TAW, what the ac is on doesn't affect how fast it gets there.

to LionIndex, from what i've read, swamp coolers dont work during the monsoon season

to davejay, we never touch the ac. its always set to 'on,' 'cool,' and 'auto.' it never shuts itself off between 4 and 11.

ill try heat tinting the other windows, as well as asking the landlord about more insulation. the maintenance report we got from the last time specifically mentioned 'the isulation in the attic is your only barrier to the heat' so it's probably a lost cause.

any other ideas?
posted by phritosan at 3:03 PM on August 4, 2008

Leaving it run all day might actually end up being cheaper because the apt might actually reach the desired temp and then the unit would shut off for a while. Right now you are just running it non-stop and the unit cannot lower the temp to 78.

Also, you might even consider getting another unit. The unit you have might just not be hefty enough to handle the entire apt. I dont know how AC units are rated but you might want to take a look at yours. Two units might cool the apt quicker and thus get to the sweet-spot of actually turning off intermittently when the temp is reached. Utility wise running two units theoretically shouldn't cost any more than running one because the ambient temp should reach the desired level twice as fast hence total running time would be half as long.

Also, you could try letting it run all day at 82 degrees?

Disclaimer: I am really quite dense about these things.
posted by ian1977 at 3:07 PM on August 4, 2008

Best answer: oh, and the Gila film is what we put on the glass door, great stuff. that alone was what dropped the temp from 90s to 80s.
posted by phritosan at 3:09 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: to ain1977, i thought about getting an additional unit, but i cant make it work in my mind

1. swamp cooler: doesnt work during the humid season of august and sept (yes, phx gets himid too.)
2. floor unit: $400+, needs a place to vent the heat
3. window unit: all the windows a) open horizontally and b) we cant make any changes viewable from outside
posted by phritosan at 3:13 PM on August 4, 2008

phritosan - Does your front door to the apt come in through a hall way? If so, what is the temp like in the hallway? This might be a bit weird but maybe you could open the door and put a fan in the doorway and blow your hot air out or the cool hallway air in for a couple hours when you get home.
posted by ian1977 at 3:18 PM on August 4, 2008

Ixnay on the portable swamp cooler. I'm in an historic apartment building in Phoenix myself and my dad bought me one of these. It works only on the days when the humidity level is below, say 10%, otherwise, nothing. The portable unit could work. I asked a similar question last summer and got some good responses, though I have yet to try any of them. I had hoped to move by the time we got to Hades heat this year.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 3:19 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: ian1977 - negative door opens into the dining room and living room

here is a link to the floorplan. the 'bottom' wall of the picture is the side that faces west
posted by phritosan at 3:21 PM on August 4, 2008

to JimN2TAW, what the a/c is on doesn't affect how fast it gets there.

Sorry, I partially misread the question and I thought that you were eventually reaching the 78 degree target temperature.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:26 PM on August 4, 2008

Maybe this is dumb but could you put up some sort of privacy thing on your balcony? Like a bamboo thingamajingy? That would maybe put a bit of a barrier between the sun and your window in fron of the balcony. Of course, that would affect the outside visual thing.

Where I work they were doing this fire safety inspection thing...the guy had an IR video camera that he used to see if there were any electrical hotspots. Maybe you could get one of those and see if the walls/ceilings are the culprit?
posted by ian1977 at 3:26 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: I specifically asked about hanging a bamboo shade, no dice. uniform appearance and all that.

interesting idea on the IR camera... no idea where to get one of those. don't think i could pop in to the fire department and ask to borrow equipment.
posted by phritosan at 3:35 PM on August 4, 2008

"78 is pretty high for the a/c setting. Most people would set it much lower. If you set it lower it will cool the room more."

That's not true- the thermostat in home HVAC only does one thing: turns it off when it hits the set point. So you could set it at 40 and it wouldn't get any cooler.

Now, to answer your question, what kind of system is it? You mentioned a rooftop component- what kind of equipment is inside the unit? For the amount of energy that thing is using, it should be doing a better job.

One thing I figured out is that the mass of the stuff in my apartment contributes to the heat load- if I turn off the AC during the day, all my stuff gets hot and radiates heat all night. The AC runs like heck and the air eventually gets cooler, but if I sit on the couch, it feels like it's a radiator. Leaving the AC run all day stops that from happening. Costs more, but it's worth it in comfort.
posted by gjc at 3:36 PM on August 4, 2008

A $230 electric bill in Phoenix in the middle of summer for a 980 sqft apartment is frankly normal. My bill was $265 last month and I am in a 680sqft apartment with my A/C set to 78. I live in a brick "condo". The east side of my home is exposed to the sun most of the day. We have put a 3M product on the windows in that area of the house, it blocks out all but the ambient light. It lowered the livingroom temp dramatically.
Being the top floor you are also going to get all the heat rising from your lower neighbors. You probably get a lower rent for trudging up all those stairs, but it is not worth it! There is only so much you can do, but I would say that if your landlord won't take care of the problem call the Landlord Tenant Office and get out of our lease. Properly functioning air conditioning is a requirement of housing rentals in the valley.
1) Have you called APS of SRP and asked if another rate plan may suit your needs?
2) Demand your landlord get a qualified HVAC company out to look at your unit. A maintenance man doen't specialize in this area, and may not know something is wrong.
posted by phytage at 3:45 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: gjc, sorry, i dont really know anything about ac units. can you ask more specific questions? i can look into it tonight and get back to you, here or mefimail

and i dont turn the ac offoff ever. its always on and set to 78. at night and in the morning it reaches 78 and goes into suspend mode however you want to call it.
posted by phritosan at 3:45 PM on August 4, 2008

There are a lot of good solutions here for "making do" with an otherwise untenable situation, but I believe that the real problem is with your HVAC system. It shouldn't working that hard.

Is the air near the vents cold? I mean, give-you-a-chill cold if you stand under it? If it's only cool the system may need servicing.

Check your tenet law, you maybe able to break your lease if the landlord doesn't fix the problem... 90 degrees *inside* is pretty miserable and also probably not good for a lot of your stuff (my computer would cook itself in a 90 degree room...)
posted by wfrgms at 3:46 PM on August 4, 2008

Response by poster: phytage, ill call SRP and see what they can do. When i set up the account there were two options: normal and an option for people that are on the opposite daily schedule.

what leg do i have to stand on to demand an HVAC company come out? the maintenance men say its working fine, ill get that tossed at me when i bring it up. if the delta is 20 degrees, what could be wrong? blocked ducts? that would be an explanation for low air power coming from the vents.

wfrgms, yes, the air is nicely cold... within a foot of the vents.

everyone i mention this to says the AC isnt working properly.

should i bite the bullet and pay for an official HVAC service call? how does that work living in an apartment.

forgive me, im still kinda new to this adult stuff
posted by phritosan at 3:54 PM on August 4, 2008

ian1977 - negative door opens into the dining room and living room

He's asking if your front door opens into a cooler public hallway. In which case, you could open your front door and put a fan there.

'the isulation in the attic is your only barrier to the heat' so it's probably a lost cause.

Maybe not- I mean, that doesn't say that the insulation is adequate, it just says it's the only barrier. That doesn't mean it can't be improved. Is your ceiling war to the touch?

I have to wonder what good your ceiling fans are doing being on all day, since they don't produce any cooling. The only benefit is that they move air, which is only helpful if you are under them, sweating. Also: do you have a high window or open skylight in your house to let warm air escape?
posted by oneirodynia at 5:26 PM on August 4, 2008

The sliding glass door is covered by UV/light blocking tinting designed for RVs, venetian blinds, and a blanket

What color are the venetians, and what are they made of?

The best possible countermeasure for excess solar gain through glazing is to put something reflective on the outside, like shutters or an awning. You can't do that, so the next best thing is to put something very reflective on the inside, so that the sunlight bounces straight back out again without heating up anything inside the apartment.

Sunlight will heat anything that absorbs it. If your venetians are plastic, as most of them are, they won't be reflecting anything close to 100% of the sunlight that strikes them; and anything they don't reflect will be heating them and the blankets, which will then transfer that heat to the air inside your room.

From the afternoon timing of your heat problem, it seems likely to me that most of your trouble is caused by solar gain through your west-facing glazing. I think you'll get good results from using proper blockout blinds, which are fully opaque with a very bright white surface on the window side) rather than an ad-hoc combination of venetians and blankets. If you can turn your apartment into a dark little cave, you will find it stays much cooler.

I also think blockout blinds will work better for you than window tinting film. Tinting film will turn your glazing into a mirror to some extent, but its main effect will be to absorb sunlight coming through the glazing; that heats the glazing, and half of that heat ends up in your interior air. You want the windows to be as transparent as possible, so you get minimal absorption of sunlight coming in and bouncing out again off your blockout blinds.
posted by flabdablet at 7:14 PM on August 4, 2008

I think part of your problem is that you are on the third floor and heat rises.
posted by konolia at 8:49 PM on August 4, 2008

Most people are just reiterating suggestions at this point, so I'd like to suggest a solution that is outside the box. You say that your apartment is getting down to temp during the night and the AC begins to turn on and off, as it's supposed to. What if you raised the specific heat of your apartment, so that you could store some work from your AC during the night and thus stay cooler longer during the day? I'm imagining you get a large number of empty containers and fill them with water and put them in your rooms.

There's several reasons this might be a bad idea:
1.) I don't know how much water you would need to have an effect. Might be a lot!
2.) Water is heavy. You probably need a lot and should spread it out so you don't cave in the floor.
3.) You may not like looking at a bunch of containers all the time.

Cost shouldn't be an issue, you can get 5gal buckets (usually with lids) free from many restaurants. I've gotten them from Dunkin Doughnuts especially - filling comes in them, and they are already rinsed out. If they do smell, it's vaguely fruity, from artificial flavorings, nothing that can go bad.
posted by no1hatchling at 8:52 PM on August 4, 2008

So you go on and on about your windows. Is your ceiling warm?
posted by caddis at 9:14 PM on August 4, 2008

I think part of your problem is that you are on the third floor and heat rises

Unless you're getting significant conductive heat transfer through your floor, or your apartment is exchanging air with your building's public spaces, this part is unlikely to be major enough to cause trouble for your AC. The fact that it struggles in the afternoon says to me that solar gain through your western glazing is likely to be your major issue.
posted by flabdablet at 9:53 PM on August 4, 2008

I specifically asked about hanging a bamboo shade, no dice. uniform appearance and all that.

What about plants, instead? If you don't want to take care of them, maybe some silk/foam plants?
posted by porpoise at 11:07 PM on August 4, 2008

On quick blush, my opinion is that, in addition to using the film, you just need more BTUs. I don't know how you're going to get them if you can't hang another a/c unit out the window, though. (Maybe a free-standing unit with a condensation exhaust hose?)

Good luck!
posted by Citrus at 6:12 AM on August 5, 2008

Response by poster: oneirodynia, ian1997, my mistake. no, the front door opens into an open air hallway.

oneirodynia, good point on the insulation. ill ask. and no, theres no high window or skylight

flabdabelet, the venetians are white, appears to be standard plastic venetians. granted that being super reflective will bounce the most heat, but the window has to appear to have not been modified. the lease says we can hang curtains, but cannot put anything between the window and the blinds, nor change the blinds. however, we are on the third floor, so i doubt it'll get a close inspection

porpoise, good idea!, but that would help only on the balcony where the door is. i already have a blanket drapped over two lawn chairs that prevents most of the sunlight from getting to the door.

thanks guys, those that are still reading. ill keep checking on it via rss.

cliff notes:
tint the rest of the windows
put something super reflective in the windows
turn off everything that might generate any heat
ask the landlord about more insulation in the attic
call a professional for a real inspection
get a standalone ac
move next spring
posted by phritosan at 8:24 AM on August 5, 2008

Someone said: to JimN2TAW, what the a/c is on doesn't affect how fast it gets there.

I replied: Sorry, I partially misread the question and I thought that you were eventually reaching the 78 degree target temperature.

Now the OP says: and i dont turn the ac offoff ever. its always on and set to 78. at night and in the morning it reaches 78 and goes into suspend mode however you want to call it.

So, I didn't misunderstand after all. Eventually your room does reach 78.

So, is there a reason you don't set it on a lower target temp, say, 72? Then, at night and in the early a.m. you may get down to 72, not 78. The apartment will be just a bit cooler all day if it starts from a lower initial temp in the a.m.

Put another way, how did you choose 78 as your target lowest temperature?
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:06 PM on August 5, 2008

the lease says we can hang curtains, but cannot put anything between the window and the blinds, nor change the blinds

So hang blockout curtains inside the blinds, then leave the venetian blinds pulled up so they don't absorb sunlight on its way between your windows and your blockouts.

If you don't want to commit to the expense of buying proper blockout curtains without some indication that they will actually work, you can temporarily achieve the same physical effect in a tatty student-housing kind of mode using kitchen aluminium foil and masking tape.

Not being able to put anything between the window and the blinds might rule out adhesive films, depending how stroppy your landlord is.
posted by flabdablet at 6:10 PM on August 5, 2008

Response by poster: JimN2TAW, that thought crossed my mind, but didn't stick. it seems like it would be better from a comfort position, but how would it work cost wise? i believe electricity is cheaper in the early morning hours here, and it would have less of an uphill battle getting it to 72 when its only 80 outside. sound correct to you?
posted by phritosan at 9:17 AM on August 6, 2008

Tempe here, second floor, 1100 square feet, $260 power bill last month. It breaks my heart. The worst part is, the master bedroom is above an open carport and is furthest away from the A/C, so it's a struggle to keep that room cool.

The best suggestion I can make that hasn't been made before is to start using fans to create an airflow pattern around the rooms and back to the A/C intake vent. try and encourage that measly amount of air escaping your vents to make its way around before it gets sucked back in to the system.

Also, close vents and doors for rooms that don't need constant cooling. We have a spare bedroom that rarely gets used, so I completely closed the vent feeding that room, as well as the second vent that (uselessly) feeds extra cool air into the dining room.
posted by phredgreen at 8:14 PM on August 9, 2008

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